Our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, Kristen Dutch-Cline, has always been a barber, but she became a part of local South Jersey history five years ago. As the owner of Ben’s Barber Shop, a Glassboro institution since 1938, Kristin maintains a vintage vibe (with original fixtures and retro chairs) and cuts the younger generation of clients whose dads and granddads have sat in the same chairs. We caught up with this busy Franklinville stepmom and mama-to-be to chat about how a degree in psychology helps her with clients, the two men she’d loved to have in her chair at the shop, and where her family goes in the Pinelands when they want to appreciate New Jersey’s natural beauty.
Tell us a bit about your family background. My husband, Russell, and I have been together for 18 years. We got married in 2015, and I have a beautiful 19-year-old stepdaughter, Savannah, and I’m currently eight months pregnant with our first baby. I moved to Glassboro when I was in middle school, and Russell, Savannah, and I now live in Franklinville, next to Glassboro, and I love that we get the best of both worlds this way. Franklinville is pretty rural and feels peaceful thanks to woods and deer everywhere, but it’s also close to the busy town of Glassboro.
What sets Ben’s Barber Shop apart from other similar businesses? We are a full-service barbershop in Glassboro specializing in short haircuts for men and boys. The shop has been in Glassboro since 1938, and I became the owner in 2017 after filling in for the previous owner during the summers. It’s also multi-generational—some of our customers have been coming here since the ’60s, and they’ve brought their sons, who now bring their young sons.
People tend to open up to their barbers. How have you connected with your clients? For the most part, we have an intimate connection with our clients. Even though I’d been barbering forever, in 2017, I went back to school to get my degree in psychology from Rowan College. I’ve always been interested in getting to know and connect with people, and I wanted to do everything in my power to continue growing and becoming more well-rounded. When you’re touching someone, people start to share their lives with you, and you get to know them better to build a relationship. We cut hair, and it’s usually just that, but sometimes a haircut is more than a haircut. We see people at their best times, like weddings, and we love getting to be a part of it and making them feel their absolute best. And, we also see people at their worst of times, like funerals, and we do our small part to be there for them and help them feel as whole as they can feel under the circumstances. We’ve also gone into the homes of our elderly clients who’ve become homebound due to illnesses and give them a haircut to help them feel human again and regain dignity at such a vulnerable time.
If you could have anyone sit in your chair, who would it be, and why them? Having my biological grandfathers sit in my chair would be a meaningful and special experience. Family is so important to me, and because I didn’t get to know them when I was younger, it would mean everything to connect with them and learn so much more about my family history.
What is the best thing about owning a business? Because I worked for others, I always knew that owning my own business would be a 24/7 commitment. When it’s yours, there’s always “something,” so I was more than a little nervous, but the fact that I was able to make it “my own” and have the exact barbershop that I wanted to have makes it all worth it. Also, I love having the freedom to do what I want to do for my clients and my employees, and being able to reach out and connect with the community makes me so happy.
How has the pandemic affected your business? Our industry was shut down for 101 days by the state. It was an incredible eye-opener to know that no matter how hard you work, life can throw you a hardball, and you have to be able to reevaluate and adjust. Many small businesses took a huge hit, and though it wasn’t easy for us, we were very fortunate that local and federal government programs helped keep us afloat so we could ride it out. We also did online updates for our clients. Once we could reopen, we changed our business model from a walk-in only to an appointment only, which was the right approach for safety.
What would have been helpful to know before launching your business? It’s essential to be truthful with yourself about your lifestyle, finances, and what you’re getting into. But, because I worked in different small businesses for 18 years before owning my own, for the most part, I knew what to expect.
Kristen, Savannah, and Russell enjoying some downtime in Ocean City, Maryland.
Please tell us about some of your favorite local businesses. The Olympia Greek Restaurant in Vineland is one of our favorite places to bring family and friends. It’s been there forever, and the food, service, and staff are consistently excellent. Another of our favorites is Glassboro’s Bob’s Little Sports Shop. My husband is an avid hunter, and their customer service is the absolute best. I also appreciate that they’re family-owned, have been around for a long time, and are very involved in the community.
Please share a few places in NJ that your family loves. We love to go to Batsto in Wharton State Forest, an off-the-beaten-path place to fish, ride motorcycles and appreciate the beautiful natural side of our state. Wildwood is another favorite. My grandparents had a home there, so we’d go every summer to be with family when I was growing up. Of course, the boardwalk and the beach are always great summer activities, but I also love seeing how certain things stay the same like they’ve been frozen in time, while others change entirely.
What advice do you have for an NJMOMpreneur just starting? Knowledge is everything. Do your homework and know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before launching your business. There will always be the things you can’t plan for, so you also should expect the unexpected, be willing to change your plans, and have a plan b and a plan c in mind, just in case you do need them.